Like many countries in Latin America, Colombia has its share of music inspired by sounds from the U.S. and Europe. But the true sonic treasures here come from within, cultivated and enriched by an artistic population that is bridging the long-standing cultural divide between the nation’s European/indigenous Andean interior and its massive Afro-Colombian population along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts (little-known fact: Colombia has the largest population of African descent of any Spanish-speaking country in the world). Hope you enjoy the selection, and that it inspires you to look further into this rich and beautiful culture.
Totó La Momposina – “Dos De Febrero”
A fourth-generation musician, Totó La Momposina belongs in any serious discussion of Colombian folkloric music. After one song you’ll know why Peter Gabriel’s Real World label came calling: to hear the sound of her voice in response to the furious African drums tumbling underneath is to feel your bare feet passing across the sands of the land from which it came. Essential listening.
Bomba Estéreo – “Huepajé”
With their psychedelic offering of cumbia, rock, and electronic beats (not to mention a positively electric frontwoman), Bomba Estéreo are blowing up all over the world. You’ve probably heard their hit single “Fuego”, and 2010 saw them tour across Europe and the U.S. in addition to performing live at major international festivals such as South By Southwest and Bonnaroo.
Pernett – “Fruta Madura”
Humberto Pernett grew up in Barranquilla, and his father directed a major dance group in the city’s legendary carnival scene. Pernett’s music carries the full bouquet of folkloric and Afro-Caribbean sounds heard along the Colombian coast, but it’s his fascination with technology and early electronic music that places him among the country’s most innovative artists.
Crew Peligrosos – “Cortesía De La Casa”
A tremendously important group in one of Latin America’s most dynamic hip-hop scenes, Crew Peligrosos run a youth academy in one of Medellin’s poorest barrios, teaching the four elements of hip-hop to local kids who are often otherwise targeted for gang recruitment.
Petrona Martinez – “La Currumba”
Martinez comes from San Basilio de Palenque, a town in northern Colombia founded centuries ago by runaway African slaves. Often considered the queen of bullerengue, she stands alongside Totó La Momposina in the pantheon of authentic Afro-Colombian music.
ChocQuibTown – “Macru”
Latin Grammy Award winners ChocQuibTown offer an ebullient mix of traditional Pacific Colombian rhythms with salsa and modern hip-hop flavor, accompanied by conscious lyrics that cut to the heart of Colombia’s socio-economic issues. You will dance your ass off listening to these guys, but you might just learn something as well.
Frente Cumbiero – “ChucuSteady”
Bandleader Mario Galeano Toro is a man on a mission, composing modern cumbia in a style that remains loyal to the genre’s original Colombian masters. But don’t call Frente Cumbiero old school: they just released a new album in collaboration with Mad Professor that explores the marriage of cumbia and dub.
Cero 39 – “Anti-Bounce Definitivo”
Seemingly fashioned in some crazed high-tech lab, Anti-Bounce Definitivo showcases the wide variety of unique production techniques found throughout the Cero 39 catalog. Blips, bleeps and telenovela dialogue – whatever it takes, Cero 39 puts the cool in nueva cumbia.
Explosión Negra – “Son De Mi Tierra”
This emerging Colombian trio features wicked Afro-Colombian beats and instrumentation, layering fierce vocals on top in furious hip-hop/dancehall/ragga tradition. Hit play and watch the goose bumps rise when that sinister clarinet kicks in.
La 33 – “La Pantera Mambo”
Formed in a converted convent in 2002, La 33 takes salsa back to its roots with a 12-piece orchestra and no electronic doo-dads. And they bring it hard; with elements of boogaloo and ’70s-style Latin jazz they have risen to prominence in a nation full of well-equipped salsa outfits.
Jiggy Drama – “La Fuga”
While the heavy beats and macho lyrics of commercial reggaeton rule many of Colombia’s urban discotecas, self-professed nerd Jiggy Drama offers an artistic variant befitting his argyle-infused personal style.
Liliana Montes – “Kilele”
In addition to a number of solo projects, this Cali-born singer recorded with sensational Colombian outfit Sidestepper, whose producer Richard Blair remarked that Montes is, “the only vocalist I know who always sings with a smile.” She has a new project called Suramericana de Suenos Sonoro.
Laberinto – “Bajo Presión”
Laberinto have been central in Medellín’s vibrant hip-hop scene for over 10 years, and they’re still going strong. Urban breaks mixed with elements of bolero and salsa hint at something unique going on here; that promise is delivered in powerful socio-political lyrics with classic MC flow.
Andres Landero – “Compa’e Pancho”
One of the titans of cumbia, Landero steadfastly promoted the Afro-indigenous roots of coastal Colombian music in radical opposition to a widespread commercialization of such rhythms that was designed to appease the nation’s European/”white” interior regions during the mid-20th century. The importance of his stance cannot be overstated in the history of Colombian music.
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